The effects of high blood pressure can damage your kidneys, leading to chronic kidney disease and potentially kidney failure. If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to manage your blood pressure to prevent kidney disease.

Your blood pressure is the force your blood exerts on the walls of your blood vessels as it flows through your body. If this pressure is consistently higher than normal, you have high blood pressure (hypertension).

High blood pressure is very common. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that 46% of adults in the United States have high blood pressure.

When it’s not well managed, high blood pressure can cause health problems, including kidney damage. This can lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD), a condition that affects an estimated 15% of adults in the United States. In fact, high blood pressure is the second leading cause of CKD.

Keep reading to learn more about the link between high blood pressure and kidney health.

Your kidneys work to filter wastes and excess fluids from your blood. The filtered substances and fluids then exit your body as urine. A healthy kidney filters about half a cup of blood each minute.

Blood that needs to be filtered flows into your kidneys via arteries until it reaches the nephrons, the filtering units of your kidneys. Filtered blood leaves your kidneys through veins.

If you have high blood pressure, the increased force of blood on the artery walls damages your arteries over time. Arteries throughout your body can become weak, narrow, or stiff. This can cause reduced blood flow in your kidneys.

When the nephrons aren’t getting enough blood, they cannot do their filtering job properly. This means the nephrons have trouble effectively removing wastes and fluid from your blood.

As excess fluid builds up in your blood vessels, it can further boost your blood pressure. This creates a dangerous spiral that causes more damage to blood vessels in your kidneys. It can eventually lead to CKD and potentially kidney failure.

It can be hard to tell whether high blood pressure is affecting your kidneys unless you have tests at your doctor’s office. That’s because both high blood pressure and early stage CKD typically don’t cause any symptoms.

One early symptom of a possible problem with your kidneys is edema — swelling due to excess fluid that builds up because your kidneys are having trouble removing it. This swelling typically happens in your legs, ankles, or feet and sometimes in your face or hands.

Other possible symptoms of kidney problems include:

If you have symptoms of kidney disease, make an appointment with a doctor. They can do tests to assess your kidney function and can evaluate your blood pressure to see whether it’s too high.

When is blood pressure too high?

A blood pressure reading has two numbers: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. The systolic (upper) number is your blood pressure when your heart beats. The diastolic (lower) number is your blood pressure between beats.

The AHA defines a healthy blood pressure as a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and a diastolic blood pressure of less than 80 mm Hg.

Elevated blood pressure is a systolic blood pressure of 120 to 129 mm Hg and a diastolic blood pressure less than 80 mm Hg. You have high blood pressure if your blood pressure readings are regularly above this range.

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Once kidney damage has happened, it’s typically not possible to reverse it. However, timely diagnosis and treatment can slow the progression of damage.

For this reason, if you’ve received diagnoses of high blood pressure and CKD, it’s important to stick to your treatment plan, including any prescribed medications and recommended lifestyle changes.

If you have high blood pressure, you can lower your risk of kidney disease by working closely with your doctor to manage your blood pressure. This involves aiming to keep your blood pressure within a target range, which varies from person to person.

Your doctor may also prescribe blood pressure medications to help you reach and maintain this target blood pressure range. Be sure to take these medications as directed by your doctor.

CKD and high blood pressure

It’s estimated that 65% to 85% of people with CKD also have high blood pressure. The prevalence of high blood pressure in this group increases as kidney function declines.

The optimal blood pressure range for people with CKD and high blood pressure isn’t well defined. However, researchers in a 2021 study identified readings of less than 130/80 mm Hg as a potential target range to prevent negative health outcomes.

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You can also take other steps in your everyday life to help lower your blood pressure, including:

Regardless of whether you have high blood pressure, it’s always important to help protect the health of your kidneys. You can do so in the following ways:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Eat a balanced diet that focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low fat or no-fat dairy.
  • Incorporate exercise into your daily routine most days of the week.
  • Make an effort to manage your weight if you have overweight or obesity.
  • Avoid smoking, or quit smoking if you do.
  • Be aware of over-the-counter drugs that can damage your kidneys, particularly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Address other preexisting health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, if necessary.
  • Work with your doctor to monitor your kidney health if you’re at risk for kidney disease.

High blood pressure that’s not well managed can gradually damage your kidneys. Over time, this can lead to CKD and potentially kidney failure.

While you can’t reverse kidney damage that has resulted from high blood pressure, you may be able to slow down kidney damage by managing your blood pressure. This typically involves medications and lifestyle strategies.

Both high blood pressure and early stage CKD are often asymptomatic. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor each year for a physical. They will be able to evaluate your blood pressure and kidney health and recommend treatment, if necessary.